Nancy Roman

Down in Mom’s Cellar

Last week, I went down to my mom’s basement to do her laundry.

Except for the washer and dryer, no one ever uses the basement any more. The stuff down there has been down there for years. Anything useful was rescued years ago.

On the beam that runs across the ceiling, there are a bunch of little wooden toys and Christmas ornaments. My father, when he retired, tried his hand at woodworking. When he had a success, he brought his creation up out of the cellar – he had a shelf in the den with little cars and cats. If he had an especially good doodad, he usually gave it to one of us grown kids – for our corresponding shelf.

What my father defined as especially good was as magnanimous as he was. By which I mean, he was always generous in his praise. He wasn’t hard on us and he wasn’t hard on himself. Doing your best made you worthy of admiration and applause.

Dad’s woodworking skills were primitive. He didn’t mind. I didn’t either. I still have one little ornament – Santa driving a car (for some unknown reason) – that adorns my tree every year.

In the cellar, on that beam, sits the evidence of how hard he tried. Because there are rows of Santas driving cars that are – well, not so good. I think he must have made a dozen terrible car-driving Santas before he had one good enough to make it out of the basement and into my hands.

Every week, when I go down to do Mom’s wash, I like to give a nod to those imperfect projects up on the beam. I can picture my dad concentrating on tiny faces and wheels and headlights. He would be saying to himself, “Not too bad this time. I’ll try it again.”

Dad taught me that you get an unlimited number of chances. No one in the family had only one shot to succeed. We all could try as many times as it took.

There was no time limit.

I remember complaining to my father when I was about twenty-five that I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And Dad laughed and said, “I’m in my fifties and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” Which, now that I think about it, is probably why I – a financial executive – was able to write three novels in my sixties.

My mother’s cellar is a testament to trying.

On the opposite side of the basement, invisible when you are only interested in the laundry, is an old piano.

When I say old, I mean ancient. This is a player piano. The player part only worked occasionally but we kids worked hard to pump out a song every so often. Mostly it was the piano we all learned to play.

Mom grew up poor, but she made her impossible dream come true – that she would one day have a piano. She bought this old enormous relic for a ridiculously small amount of money that was a fortune for her at the time. It was a scene from a slapstick comedy getting it into the second-floor apartment we lived in at the time. I don’t remember it since it was close to seventy years ago; I only know the hilarious stories about it. But I do remember getting it back out with the same amount of insanity when we moved to the house we live in now. The new house had a walk-out basement. No stairs. So that’s where the piano was carried. And stands to this day.

It’s a testament to effort. The effort of my mother to be the owner of a piano. The effort of getting it in and out of a house where it didn’t fit through the door. The effort of us kids who sat at that piano every day and painstakingly learned to play it. The effort of affording those lessons – we could afford $4.00 for two lessons a week, but there were three of us girls (my brother was a baby), so we alternated who skipped a week. My mother’s effort, sitting with us, going over what we learned, learning to play from us. And the effort of getting an old piano roll to play every once in a while, just for the peculiar joy of it.

When I did the laundry this week, I gave my usual smile to my dad’s woodworking flops, and walked around the corner to take a peek at the old piano.

Another homage to effort greeted me.

Ivy from the back yard had pushed its way through the edges of the door frame. The whole door was covered on the inside with happy, healthy, determined ivy.

And one long tendril reached for the piano.


That ivy knows it’s in the right place.

The piano. That’s me hamming it up on the left.


  1. Aren’t fathers great. We learn so much from them, not least tge power of perseverance. I hope you are well and all free of tge deadly virus.


  2. Ray G

    Too bad you didn’t really know about your dad’s metalworking successes, including stuff which was good enough for NASA. Especially considering the equipment he used to make them. We also have some of that woodworking from him, in prominent places. Now I am getting misty.


  3. That is a very fun Santa-driven car! Every Christmas tree should be lucky enough to have one.


  4. lydiaschoch

    What a beautiful post. I can feel the love in your childhood memories.


  5. Such lovely memories our father’s were awesome
    No celllars or basements here


  6. Barbara Lindsey

    What a wonderful story and memories. Dads are incredible. Mine could turn his hand to most things and I have items he made specially for me, they are treasures to hand down to my boys. My mum too was creative in many ways and I am grateful that she passed that on to me. Lovely post. Thank you.


  7. And oh my, is that ivy decorating the curtain behind the piano? Or something more exciting?


  8. This is such a heartwarming post. So sweet that your dad kept trying with his woodworking, and I know that car-driving Santa is a treasure to you.
    As for the piano, my mom struggled to give me lessons when I was a very young girl, and somehow scraped together $25 to buy an old upright piano (and ball-and-claw stool). It had been kept in a barn, and many of the keys wouldn’t play. But how I loved it. It’s still in the home where my son and his dad live.


  9. A heartwarming story. I love it!


  10. Wonderful stories and memories. I love the ivy! My dad was a welder, but he could make or fix anything. I recently had a lamp that needed a new switch. It was cheap to begin with, but it was one of a pair and I liked it. I remembered seeing my dad rewire lamps, so I went on YouTube for instructions, got a new switch at the hardware store, and was delighted when I turned it on and it worked! My dad died in 1990 and I still miss him.


  11. Such important lessons learned from your parents…not to mention wonderful memories, Nancy!


  12. What a great legacy your parents gave you: to keep on trying for what you wanted, and never mind how many times it took. They sound as if they were wonderfully resourceful and positive people!


  13. such a wistful, warm and wonderful post. I felt like I went down the stairs with you … MJ


  14. Donna W.

    Nancy, What a wonderful account of heartwarming days-gone-by, written in the easy-flow style that is yours – drawing the reader into the story along with all of the other characters. I could easily read on for another hour. You were blessed to have such a father in your home. And, I love his woodwork – your tree ornament is priceless. I still have a black cat silhouette he carved (a gift you gave me at work one day.) It sits atop a white cabinet next to a decorative birdcage. I think of you every time I look at it. Write-on – you are a gifted writer and artist! Donna


  15. I always enjoy reading of your family memories. I envy you your memories and appreciate that you share them here. It is a testament to your family that you look back on the good and the not so good with the love you obviously do.


  16. Donna W.

    I agree with you, SilkPurse. It is a blessing to have such memories. And we are blessed that Nancy shares them so well with us!


  17. Donna Walsh

    I agree with you SilkPurse. It is a blessing to have such memories. And we are blessed that Nancy uses her gifts to share these with us!


  18. You really have a way with words about the past. It is as if we are walking around downstairs with you. Maybe not with the same memories, but similar ones, where we spotted dad’s workshop or mom’s laundry table. Good time, my friend.


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